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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Council members on Tuesday authorized extending Mayor Erin Mendenhall's COVID-19 emergency proclamation that requires masks in K-12 schools.
The council approved the extension in a 6-1 vote, with Councilman James Rogers voting against the extension.
In a council work session Tuesday before the vote, Mendenhall reported that the Salt Lake City School District is seeing 99.8% compliance with the mask order. The district also has the lowest COVID-19 case rate of any public school district or charter school in the county over the last two weeks, with a rate of 42.1 cases per 10,000, Mendenhall said.
"The data for the Salt Lake City School District is showing really clearly the benefits of wearing masks, and it's what doctors and our health professionals have been saying all along, that until more people can get vaccinated, we need to wear masks," Mendenhall said.
The mayor clarified that the case rate data doesn't show if one single intervention, such as mask wearing, is responsible for the school district's lower case rate. District officials are working with the remaining families who aren't complying with the mask order, she added.
Rogers cast the sole vote against extending Mendenhall's proclamation because he said that decision should lie with the school board.
"I don't think it's appropriate for us as a council to be doing this," he said. "It should be done by the Salt Lake City School Board. For me personally, I feel like they should be the ones stepping up to the plate for it; it shouldn't be us."
Councilwoman Amy Fowler said she did not necessarily disagree with Rogers, but said her constituents supported continuing to require masks in schools.
"I have also received an overwhelming amount of support of parents in my neighborhoods," Fowler said.
Additionally, extending the order would allow council members and city staffers to consult with health experts such as Salt Lake County Health Department Executive Director Dr. Angela Dunn to determine the best course of action moving forward, Fowler added. Council members can talk with Dunn to figure out when a mask mandate for schools could be lifted according to the latest data while another 30-day extension runs its course, she said.
Mendenhall pointed out that COVID-19 transmission metrics that were included in the Utah State Legislature "endgame" bill, formally known as HB294, were proposed before the delta variant of the virus became dominant. She said that the council should also consider consulting state health officials on the matter.
Councilman Darin Mano agreed that the council should consult with state and local health officials for future extensions. He said he agreed with Rogers that the authority to institute mask mandates should lie with school districts, but legislation took that authority away from school boards, instead allowing city and county elected bodies to make the call.
"I do think that Salt Lake City constituents want this, and I also agree with council member Rogers that this should be the school board," Mano said. "I think it's unfortunate that we have to do this, but the truth is the school board — that authority was taken away from the school board."